Monday, April 8, 2019

Q&A with Patricia Wilkinson

Patricia Wilkinson is the author, with the late Jacqueline Frischknecht, of the new book Brain Stages: How To Raise Smart, Confident Kids and Have Fun Doing It. She was an elementary school teacher for 23 years, and she lives in Bend, Oregon.  

Q: How did you and Jacqueline Frischknecht end up collaborating on this book?

A: Although I feel like I knew my coauthor—because of our shared goals in helping kids get the best intellectual, social, and emotional foundation—I never met Jacqueline Frischknecht before she passed away in 2015.

Sandra, of Sandra Jonas Publishing, knew Jackie. A college professor who had spent decades researching how brains grow, develop, and learn, Jackie had collected amazing information on how brains work as well as activities to nurture brain development. Her dying wish had been to get the word out on what she’d discovered to help parents and educators raise well-educated, well-adjusted children.

As for me, after 23 years of teaching all the elementary school grades in both public and private schools, I set out eight years ago to write Grade by Grade: A Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K–5. I wanted to help bring families closer in this techno-hustle world and support parents in raising well-adjusted children.

I’d collected a boatload of games for parents and children to play on car rides, at the doctor’s office, or in line at the grocery store at each grade level—activities to strengthen relationships and help kids thrive, whatever their environment.

Jackie’s work and mine seemed like the perfect marriage, so Sandra asked if I could write the grade-by-grade guide using Jackie’s brain research to support and drive the Brain Stages narrative.

Not to get too surreal on you, but I felt as if Jackie guided my path and insights as I updated her research. New studies get published at quite a clip these days, based on three-dimensional fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology and other innovations. Jackie’s gentle presence seemed to accompany me on my journey to discovering what she had learned about how brains develop and function as well as new information I found in more recent studies.

Combining our work was the key to creating the most useful book for parents.  

Q: You provide information for parents raising kids in grades K-5. Why did you focus on these ages in particular?

A: Lots of books are available to help parents through the infant and toddler years but few that focus on ages 4–11, this critical stage of life.

In the early academic years, neural pathways busily form, kids start to learn to deal with emotions, and social systems begin to take shape. We want parents to know what’s coming and offer lots of fun ways to help them enjoy their kids more, stress less, and bring their families closer. Brain Stages provides the how-to for creating a secure academic, emotional, physical, and social foundation.  

Q: What are some of the things you hope readers take away from the book?

A: We want parents to know how the latest research and decades of experience can help them nurture their kids in fun, productive ways so they can raise well-balanced, successful humans.

We also want people to understand that they don’t need to overhaul their lives. Small changes can make a huge difference!

Knowledge is power. That’s where the information on brains, academic expectations, and social and emotional development come in. And most of the games to nurture kids’ brains can be played in everyday life.

What we hadn’t anticipated is how helpful teachers would find Brain Stages. They’ve told us that the book has shown them how to communicate better with parents, and they appreciate the comprehensive, concise information about their students in the grade they teach.  

Q: In the book, you describe three types of parents. Can you say more about those groups?

A: At the end of each chapter, fictional scenarios illustrate how three kinds of parents handle situations: Harried Parents, Helicopter Parents, and Angel Parents.

Harried Parents (often me while raising kids) sacrifice best practices in the interest of saving time, which regularly seems in short supply. Helicopter Parents do almost everything for their kids and have trouble allowing them to take responsibility for mistakes. Angel Parents represent the ideal.

The purpose of these examples is to highlight concepts presented in the book and provide clarity for the reader—for instance, how each kind of parent helps their kids keep track of and remember materials to bring to school in the morning.

The truth is, most of us can identify with all three parenting examples. Nobody can be an Angel Parent all the time. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m revising the first book in my Mind Touch young adult fiction series titled Two Feet, No Shoes—about a 15-year-old Latina who steals away from Los Angeles to help her dad in Mexico. She not only gets into loads of trouble south of the border but also discovers she has a foot in two countries but no shoes that fit!

Sandra Jonas and I also plan to publish a Brain Stages book for middle school. Kids’ brains develop and change as much in adolescence as they do in infancy and the early toddler years.

I’ll use Jackie’s research, my own experience working with and raising kids, and recent exciting studies, and I’ll also consult with a brilliant, intuitive best friend of mine who is a licensed educational psychologist (LEP) and has spent her life working with teens.

We have so much great information and practical application to help parents and kids enjoy their teen years more and stress less. I’m not saying we’ll make adolescence “easy,” but we can make that time of transition more productive and enjoyable for the whole family. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Human brains are malleable. No matter what our kids are born with, their experiences make them the people they become. Our children’s brains generally don’t finish developing until their mid-20s. Providing kids with gentle guidance as they navigate difficult situations supports them in growing into well-adjusted, mature adults.

You can visit us here. If you’re interested in having me do a Brain Stages workshop for parents or teachers in your area, please send an email to 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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